By Melissa Keogh
Paul Connolly is living a cheese lover’s dream.
He is surrounded by high quality mozzarella every day in his role as operations manager and master cheesemaker at Beston Global Food Company (BFC’s) dairy factories in Jervois and Murray Bridge in the state’s Murraylands.
Paul has worked in the SA cheese industry since the 1980s, so his contribution to the dairy sector is longstanding.
Three years ago the veteran cheesemaker was working under the factories’ previous owner, Hong Kong-owned United Dairy Power Group, when it fell into receivership.
Along came the Adelaide-based ASX-listed BFC, which purchased the business including its disused and neglected dairy factory at Jervois and another plant in Murray Bridge.
More than 30 jobs were saved, including Paul’s, and the two sites restored to their former glory. Both of the factories had a rich history in the state’s dairy industry and contributed greatly to the economic welfare of the region over time.
“When we watched it (United Dairy) wind down and watched all the uncertainty of what was going to happen, we wondered whether the factory was going to be shut down and what would happen to the team of cheesemakers and staff that worked here,” Paul says.
“But then when we found out that an SA company had bought it, would start it up again and reemploy the workers … it was good times.”
Since 2015, BFC has invested $26.5 million to fit out the Jervois factory with state-of-the-art technology, sourced predominantly from Italy to produce Beston’s Edwards Crossing premium quality mozzarella cheese.
Paul has gone on to help BFC win 70 industry awards for its cheeses, and says the complete overhaul of the Jervois factory has ensured a more modern approach to cheesemaking and greater efficiency.
“We purchased a state-of-the-art mozzarella plant that uses esteemed technology from Italy and packaging equipment from Germany. Our mozzarella plant is fully automated,” Paul says. “Parts were also sourced from Holland and New Zealand.”
BFC also makes a number of by-products at Jervois, including whey powder, cream and butter. It has also restarted the production of lactoferrin, a protein in cow’s milk that goes into infant formula powder.
BFC’s support of the regional economy also extends to the resilient dairy industry, as local farmers supply their milk to Beston.
Soon after the acquisition of the cheesemaking business, BFC contracted 38 dairy families across the state to supply milk for the Jervois and Murray Bridge factories. The company also put programs in place to assist farmers in dire need of financial help at the time.
“We still source our milk from across SA … we source from Meningie and Lower Lakes, from northern areas, the Fleurieu Peninsula and also down to the South East,” Paul says. BFC itself owns a number of dairy farms in the South East and Fleurieu regions.
While the Jervois factory is at the centre of mozzarella action, the Murray Bridge plant produces mature-style cheeses and was completely refurbished after BFC’s takeover.
“The hard cheese plant where they were making the parmesans and more artisan-style cheeses had been mothballed in about 2010 so we decided to get that up and running again too,” Paul says.
“The cheddar plant was really run down … we had to get it up to speed so we could make some really high-quality products reliably.”
BFC employs about 300 people, directly and indirectly, including employees at other SA companies it has invested in, including third-generation seafood company Ferguson Australia. Beston also invests in premium quality bottled water producer AQUAEssence, which sources spring water from underground aquifers at Mt Gambier.
BFC chairman Dr Roger Sexton says the number of employees at Murray Bridge and Jervois is dynamic depending on production and customer demand.
“There is a mix of full-time, permanent part-time and casuals, needless to say as the company grows the need for more employees, especially in the Murrayland region, will occur,” he says.
BFC has become the seventh largest dairy company in Australia, and while its head office is in Adelaide, the company has offices in China, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Dr Sexton says BFC is well positioned to capitalise on the increase in pizza consumption in Asia with Beston’s Edwards Crossing mozzarella.
“The demand for mozzarella in China is forecast to increase over the next few years from around 175,000 tonnes to 248,000 tonnes in 2022,” he says.
Dr Sexton says BFC is also experiencing an expansion in the domestic market, with its products having an ever-growing presence in major retailers and shops across Australia.
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